Hey Beautiful! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.
Think about the clothes in your closet and where they come from. Most of the cashmere sweaters, suede-trimmed coats, cotton shirts, and comfy leggings have travelled a great distance to make it from the textile mill, to the warehouse, to the hanger, and finally to your closet. And within the vast scheme of things, you might be shocked to learn the production and shipping of your garments contributed to carbon emissions that are four to five times higher than aviation emissions.
Fortunately, there are numerous fashion brands who are aware of this fact and are stepping up to do something about it. Carbon neutral fashion is popping up all over the place. But what does carbon neutral fashion actually mean? And why is carbon neutrality important in fashion?
Let’s get to the bottom of this.
What Does “Carbon Neutral” Mean?
For starters, you need to know the gist of carbon neutrality. There is no surfeit of activities that produce carbon dioxide (CO2), the main contributor to climate change. You might even say that existing has a carbon footprint. But how big your footprint is depends on your daily lifestyle. Driving to work can produce 4.3 metric tons of carbon annually. Eating steak, purchasing furniture, hopping on a plane, running on a treadmill, and putting your shirts in the dryer all produce carbon in varying amounts.
Carbon neutral means that you are offsetting in some way the same amount of carbon dioxide you admit into the atmosphere. The goal is that you balance high emission activities with low or zero-emissions ones. For example, you might switch to solar panels on your home or start taking a bicycle to work to reduce your overall carbon footprint. Other examples include planting trees, farmland management, and wildlife corridor restoration.
Carbon Neutrality in the Fashion Industry
At first, going carbon neutral seemed to be a trend that brands were quick to adopt. Now, it’s about not getting left in the dust. Many fashion brands have already committed to going carbon neutral, such as Allbirds, Gucci, Kering (the luxury group behind Balenciaga and Gucci), Gabriela Hearst, The North Face, and others.
But there is still room for fashion to do a lot better. Clothing production is, at its best, resource-intensive. Even without considering the impact of fast fashion, making even a small portion of clothing consumes large amounts of water and other finite resources. Unfortunately, most clothing is also processed with harsh chemicals, dyes, and other pollutants that ruin the environment.
Why It’s Important to be Carbon Neutral
While many brands are doing what they can to limit the environmental impact of their products, taking on carbon neutrality is a tiny yet essential step to helping put an end to catastrophic climate change.
Let’s put the importance of carbon neutral fashion into perspective. It’s estimated that one pair of jeans needs about 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of cotton. A single bale of cotton, which often requires the fibers from an acre of plants, can make 350 pairs of jeans. 2.2 pounds of cotton needs about 7,500-10,000 liters of water to grow, so if you multiply that by the amount of plants at a farm (let’s say around 50,000), you start to see how much goes into the production of a single pair of pants.
Let’s also consider the estimations from Levi Strauss. The brand stated that a single pair of 501 jeans can produce about 33.4kg of CO2 in its lifespan. That’s the equivalent of driving 69 miles in a car! That is calculated by considering the harvesting, cutting, sewing, producing, shipping, wearing, and disposing of the jeans.
There are also the annual 70 million barrels of oil that are used to make synthetic materials like polyester for fast fashion to think about.
Carbon neutral practices can help absolve some of that. Mitigating the wasting of resources and protecting the planet won’t happen any other way.
How Fashion Can Better Use Carbon Offsets
Many brands are already—and unknowingly—committed to carbon neutral practices. Fjallraven and Lululemon are two examples of brands building items that are made to last. That way, you can use those items more often and replace them less, thereby decreasing the overall carbon footprint.
Yet, many brands are only considering production, which leaves out the other cog in the wheel: the supply chain. It would be ideal if fashion considered where materials are being grown and how, what kind of chemicals are being used, if fossil fuels are being used during production, and so on.
Why Haven’t More Brands Gone Carbon Neutral?
There are a number of reasons why some brands haven’t gone carbon neutral. Some can’t. Here is where consumerism plays a role. Many brands continue to use materials that aren’t renewable or sustainable, such as conventional cotton, nylon, polyester, and viscose. Until fast fashion comes to an end, it’s going to be hard to go entirely carbon neutral.
Most fashion brands find it easier to burn unused or returned goods rather than recycling them somehow. And remember, a lot of synthetics can’t be recycled or naturally decomposed. That means that those unwanted items are also contributing to carbon output. About 350,000 tons of clothes fill UK landfills annually, and a lot of that gets incinerated.
Yes, it’s a problem. If you want more brands to go carbon neutral, perhaps it’s time to reach out and ask them. Start purchasing items that are organic, sustainable, and recycled. When the demand for items produced by carbon neutral brands starts to increase, other companies are bound to follow suit.
Carbon Neutrality Is The Future
Carbon neutrality might not be the standard yet, but it has become an important step that fashion brands need to take. The fashion industry is starting to realize the significant impact it has on the world. Hopefully, brands keep choosing beneficial carbon offsets and reconsidering their manufacturing practices. Until then, select products from brands devoted to sustainability and carbon neutrality!